When nature drew up her blueprint for Yellowstone she included a wealth of wonders. Would you like waterfalls? We have hundreds. Rivers? Aplenty. Wildlife? A magnificent lake? You’ve got ’em. Canyons, geysers, hot springs, forests and sprawling valleys tucked beautifully into majestic peaks? Yeah, we got those too. About the only missing ingredient is an ocean.
Cora and I entered the vast park from the south, the west and the north and still only scratched the surface. From the parkside town of West Yellowstone we explored the Gibbon River.
Gibbon River and Gibbon Falls
The Gibbon River was named after Colonel John Gibbon, who took part in the 1872 Hayden Geological Survey. Known as a prime fly fishing river its one of the major tributaries of the Madison River. We drove along its path and stopped to view beautiful Gibbon Falls. Two views of the falls are shown below.
Gibbon River Elk
As we drove along the route of the Gibbon River, we ran into yet another of the many Yellowstone traffic jams, this one complete with people leaving their cars in the middle of the road. When I first saw the jam in front of us I knew from the experiences of previous days that a bottleneck of this size was being caused by something pretty special. I found a place to park on the side of the road well up from all the activity, grabbed my camera and a 300mm lens and walked toward the commotion.
I hadn’t gone far when I caught a glimpse of a grand bull elk drinking from the river that was shimmering in the afternoon sun and knew that this would require the heavy artillery, so I sprinted back to the car and attached the 600mm lens, grabbed the monopod and joined the crowd of onlookers. A little further downstream were more elk, grazing on the banks and refreshing themselves with the cool river water.
A short while later a ranger appeared to bring some order to the traffic snarl. I wonder if when he’d applied to be a park ranger he had any inkling that he was also applying to be a traffic cop.
Yellowstone River and Hayden Valley
One afternoon Cora and I headed out for a picnic along the Yellowstone River. Maybe a reminiscence of a picnic that I’d had with my parents when I was a kid? That one was disturbed by a bear.
We found a place on the northern edge of the Hayden Valley.
Above and below, views of the Yellowstone River
Going into the trip I looked forward to seeing three of Yellowstone’s most elusive wild inhabitants wolves, moose and bighorn sheep. As our trip wore on I wondered if we would see any of the three until one day just as we entered the park we saw bighorn sheep.
We spent our last days in Yellowstone using Gardiner, Montana as our base, entering the park through the northwest gate. As we drove into the park one morning we ran into another Yellowstone traffic jam with people out of their cars, craning necks and looking up at some roadside cliffs. There high above, negotiating the rocky crags like hooved acrobats were Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep.
The photography was going to be a challenge. The sky was giving off a blinding background, the sheep were waaaay up there and it wasn’t easy aiming my still new, unwieldy 600mm lens skyward. Luckily I’d invested in a little gadget called a beanbag which I set on the edge of our car’s roof. The beanbag provided me a little nest in which to nest the long lens for more stability.
I’m only moderately pleased with the shot below. There were actually four of the animals that we could see. The other two were clambering a little lower down on the cliffs but were too well camouflaged by the rocky background for a good shot so I focused on the two that were silhouetted against the sky.
Bighorn sheep. Canon 60D, 1/800 sec. f/11 600mm, ISO 3200
Later that same day after leaving the park and heading towards our cabin outside of Gardiner I spotted some bighorn sheep conveniently at ground level.
Unfortunately we never did see a moose or the one animal I wanted most to see – the wolf. We’d headed out to the Lamar Valley early one chill morning and found a group of wolf watchers with lenses and scopes that made my 600mm look puny in comparison. These wolf watchers are the ones that you want to sidle up to. They know the packs, their usual whereabouts and even individual wolves, either by their designated names or numbers.